By Marcia Cavanagh and Tara Leo Auchey
A new law has been proposed to confront animal disregard, neglect, and abuse in the City of Harrisburg.
Bill 10-2013 introduced by City Councilor Brad Koplinski seeks to regulate how dogs are tethered. On Wednesday April 17th, the Parks, Recreation, and Enrichment Committee held a public hearing on the suggested legislation.
“This would be the toughest law in the state if passed,” said Central PA Animal Alliance (CPAA) volunteer Chris Baker who testified to the committee about the need for this bill.
While the law doesn’t prohibit tethering all together, it seeks to regulate the way in which tethering is done. The ordinance states:
- chains should be at least three times the length of the dog as measured from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail
- chains should not be less than 10 feet in length
- chains should be attached to a swivel
- non-choke type collars are to be used
- tethered animals must have reasonable access to fresh good and water
- tethered animals must have access to sufficient shelter and/or shade
- tethered animals cannot be left unattended for unreasonable periods of time
- tethered animals cannot be left outside for stated periods of time in extreme hot or cold weather conditions
In general, the bill seeks to introduce safer standards in which a dog may be left outside. “The days of leaving a dog outside 24/7 are over,” said City of Harrisburg Animal Control Officer Fred Lamke. If enacted, the new law would give enforcers more latitude to go after the truly negligent owners. Lamke stressed that not all tethered dogs are bad. “We do have many good dog owners, but we have many that are the opposite,” he told City Councilors. ”This legislation really helps with a lot of the bad dog owners.”
To make his point, Lamke recalled that in his 22 years as the City’s Animal Control Officer, he’s seen over two dozen dogs strangled to death because of tethering. Dogs tethered on second floor balconies are especially at risk.
Aside from the threat of strangulation, Michele Avery, another CPAA volunteer who testified, claimed a chained dog is “the most dangerous dog…and a recipe of disaster for the community.” She reasoned that dogs habitually tethered tend to lack socialization, are stressed, haven’t had regular veterinary care, and are often times malnurished. Thus, when these dogs encounter people, they can be a menace.
Councilor Susan Brown Wilson expressed support for the ordinance, but said such legislation will require an effective public awareness campaign. “We got to educate people.” She insisted enforcement needs coupled with ample notice such as via HBG Channel 20 and flyers.
Bill 10-2013 calls for fines of $350 plus costs for the first offense. After that, the penalty climbs to $1000 plus costs. Lamke believes at first the bill will actually increase costs to the City because of charges for seized dogs taken to the Humane Society. However, he closed by saying, “I think it’ll be a challenge at first, but we’ll get there.
It’s both the CPAA and the Animal Control Officer’s hope that the state will take notice to the City of Harrisburg’s intentions and begin to enact stricter laws throughout Pennsylvania for tethered dogs. “Tethered dogs aren’t just a city problem, but a state problem,” said Baker.
Bruce Weber, Chair of the committee said he will recommend City Council pass this legislation. The bill is anticipated to be on agenda for vote at the May 14th meeting.